Case: A two-step process to preparing for turkey season this spring

Contributed photo / Before heading into the wilderness this spring, turkey hunters should take some time on the range with paper targets to check their patterns and sight in their shotguns, writes "Guns & Cornbread" columnist Larry Case.
Contributed photo / Before heading into the wilderness this spring, turkey hunters should take some time on the range with paper targets to check their patterns and sight in their shotguns, writes "Guns & Cornbread" columnist Larry Case.

Sitting in his favorite booth at the Pine Top Restaurant, my buddy seemed very distracted.

He was chopping away at his plate, consisting of biscuits and gravy, two hen eggs over easy, grits and home fries with lots of black coffee. Just like the booth, this was his favorite breakfast, but it was obvious he wasn't enjoying it. To be nice, I offered a sympathetic "What the hell is wrong with you?"

I asked, but I already knew the answer: Earlier that morning, he had missed a turkey.

To many turkey hunters, you see, this is a horrendous event that may stay with them for years. There is often a tremendous amount of work and worry in getting close and personal with a wary old reprobate gobbler. All of that hiking and climbing and sweating and sneaking and sometimes crawling (Gad! I hate the crawling!) .... and then to suffer a miss, well, some of us are scarred for life.

(READ MORE: In Appalachia, the mountain turkey is one tough bird)

I thought of all this as I watched him flailing on his breakfast and pondering what can be done to guard against having this life-altering event happen to you. (Of course, I was feeling very high-minded about all this because I had not missed a turkey that day.)

There are at least a couple of things you can do, of course.

First, for about the 20th time: For heaven's sake, pattern your shotgun before turkey season starts.

I don't really know how many times we have gone over this in our little sessions here, but this is important. Some of us will spend a great deal of time before deer season making sure our rifle is carefully sighted in. We may do multiple trips to the range to make absolutely sure our deer slayer is shooting dime-sized groups at 300 yards. This is all well and good, you should do this, but for some reason, many of us don't even think about spending an hour or two at the range to do the same with our scattergun.

For reasons known only in heaven, many turkey hunters grab the shotgun out of the closet on opening morning, throw it in the truck and head to the woods.

I know the "It's just a shotgun, you really can't miss with it" thinking takes place here, and more is the pity. The fact is you absolutely can miss with a shotgun, and turkey hunters do it every year. It gives me no pleasure to say that some of you reading this will miss turkeys this year.

Here is a news flash in case you don't know (many of you do), but a shotgun is not a precise weapon.

Please go back and read that sentence again. The pattern of pellets coming from your shotgun barrel will not necessarily land in the same place on the target every time. With the same gun, choke and ammo, it will stay relatively close, but not 100 times out of 100.

The first thing testing your shotgun during the preseason will get you is the knowledge of where the gun is shooting in general. Shotguns, you see, do not all shoot where they look, meaning there is a point of aim and a point of impact.

At say, 35 yards, you aim at a place on your target paper, and when you shoot, the pattern may appear in a nice cluster around the POA. It may just as easily hit high and to the left of your POA, low right or whatever. If this happens, you need to take steps to correct this, but at least now you know there is a problem. You would not have known this if you didn't do the testing on paper.

(READ MORE: Turkey's gobble is true wake-up call of spring)

Second, and with that knowledge, go for the red dot.

If your POA and your POI are not the same, there are a few things you can do to correct this. Installing an optic on your shotgun will take care of this as now you can sight in your shotgun much like you do your deer rifle. Red-dot sights have become the rage for pistols and turkey shotguns for one big reason: They work. With the optic properly mounted on the receiver or the rib of the shotgun, you can sit down on a shooting bench, fire a few rounds and dial the pattern in.

Another big reason to go with the red-dot type of optic on your shotgun? We have talked here before how in the scenario of calling in turkeys we are aiming the shotgun at a hopefully stationary target, which is the head and neck of a gobbler. We are not shooting the shotgun in the classic manner of swinging on a flying target. We are aiming as we do with a rifle.

More turkeys are missed every year with a plain bead on the barrel because of this: We hold the bead on the turkey's head as we prepare to shoot, but what we do not do is bury our cheek into the side of the stock (known as cheek weld) and look down the entire length of the barrel. We are looking over the front bead, but our head is raised off the stock — we want to look at the turkey — and by doing this, the gun is in fact angled a little. By doing this (believe me I know, because I have done it more than twice), we will shoot over the turkey's head every time.

The red-dot sight eliminates all of this, no matter how contorted you may get by aiming at a turkey. If the dot is on the target and the optic is sighted in, that is where the pattern will go.

If you have had trouble missing turkeys of late, put a red-dot optic on your shotgun and thank me later. That way you can enjoy the sausage, grits and gravy at the Pine Top after your morning hunt.

Have another cup of coffee on me.

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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